The UAE on Friday has suspended direct and indirect flights from seven African countries because of concerns over the spread of a new COVID-19 variant. 

All flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini has been suspended. 

According to the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority, the Supreme Council for National Security and the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, the travel ban will take effect from Monday, November 29.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) designated the new highly mutated strain of Covid a "variant of concern" and has given it the Greek name Omicron.

The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021. 

The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterised by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant. In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021, WHO said in a statement. 

This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other Variants of Concern. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa, the statement said. 

(Writing by Seban Scaria; editing by Anoop Menon)

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